West Linn citizens join effort to support bill on gun background checks

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Paul Kemp described his personal battle to achieve gun background checks. He is committed because his brother-in-law, Steve Forsythe, was killed last year in the Clackamas Town Center shooting.When about 35 citizens of Clackamas County gathered to urge support for background checks on guns in Lake Oswego on Aug. 21, it was another day of gun tension in America.

A 20-year-old convicted felon in Georgia had entered a school, armed with an AK-47, other firearms and 500 rounds of ammunition. He was stopped before he killed anybody. But it was another unwelcome reminder of the never-ending dangers posed by deranged shooters who have sometimes suddenly appeared at a school, shopping center or political rally and opened fire.

This fear struck home for Clackamas County residents during the holiday shopping season last year, when West Linn resident Steve Forsyth was one of two victims shot dead at the Clackamas Town Center.

Paul Kemp, a speaker at the meeting last week in Lake Oswego, will never forget it. Steve Forsyth was his brother-in-law.

“There are no accidental shootings; I firmly believe that,” Kemp told the gathering of about 35 people. “I’m a Republican. I own a gun. I hunt. I have no problem with my friends who have concealed weapons permits.”

Yet Kemp became an activist striving for background checks immediately after the murder of Forsyth, making several trips to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and going to the Oregon Legislature in Salem. He had a crushing disappointment when the U.S. Senate rejected a bill requiring gun background checks in April.

“The day Steve died was the worst day of my life,” Kemp said. “The day the bill died was my second worst day.”

Ken Chappuis of West Linn said he is campaigning to have background checks for gun purchases because Americans are living in fear.

“I am really concerned about our quality of life,” Chappuis said. “Guns are so common. You don’t even feel secure when you go out shopping. Everyone has the right to feel secure.

“I used to stand on the sidelines and think this issue would eventually work itself out. But no. We must step forward and do something about it.”

A phone bank was held at the meeting and the activists — made up of representatives of several organizations, including Mayors Against Illegal Guns — contacted many everyday citizens. But they especially wanted to grab the attention of Oregon’s national representatives, particularly Congressman Kurt Schrader, U.S. representative for Oregon District 5.

“We asked Kurt Schrader to sign on this,” said Kathy Gordon of Lake Oswego. “He has made no commitment. Given a few pushes I think he will be on our side.”

“I’ve met several times with Mr. Schrader,” Kemp said. “I told him, ‘The proof will come when you have a chance to vote. We’ll be watching.’ The responsibility solely lies in the laps of our representatives.”

There were many staunch Democrats at what they called “a day of action,” but there were also Republicans, gun owners and hunters, and that made those supporting gun background checks highly hopeful they can eventually convince Congress to pass a bill.

“There is room in the Second Amendment for commonsense gun control,” said Tom O’Connor of Lake Oswego, one of the speakers.

Like Kemp, Gordon said she was disappointed when the background check bill was defeated in April. But, despite strong opposition, she said giving up on the issue is out of the question.

“It’s not something we can forget about,” Gordon said.

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